About Watercolor Workshops

 I've just returned from a 3-day watercolor workshop, and I want to set down my impressions about watercolor workshops in general before the memory of this one fades completely.

This is about watercolor workshops but a lot of it can also apply to watercolor classes. I define a workshop as a brief course given by an artist and/or art teacher, usually with a specific theme ("landscape painting", "the south of France", that sort of thing).

And of course what I write here applies to any kind of medium, not just watercolors.

What is the Purpose of a Watercolor Workshop?

It was only after I had been back for a few days and noticed that I hadn't touched my paints that I asked myself what it was that I had hoped to find in that landscape painting workshop.

I'm not naïve enough to have expected that the instructor, Ron Hazell, would wave a magic wand and I would suddenly turn into Jeanne Dobie, Ann Blockley, or Hazel Soan. But there's no shortage of landscapes for practising on around here, so why wasn't I out there painting, or at least taking photos or sketching?

What was it, then, that I was expecting?

Suddenly, it hit me: enthusiasm! excitement! Why hadn't I felt an uncontrollable desire to unpack my material and start painting as soon as I got home?  Worse still, I had felt it only once during the workshop: during one of his lectures, Mr. Hazell said that sometimes he is asked questions like "how do you paint a car?", the (correct) answer being to go home and paint your own car. Then he said we should paint our own car that evening, and bring the result to class the next day.

"Great, an assignment!", I thought. That evening, I parked my car in front of my motel window. I even manoeuvered it into an interesting "pose", with some foreshortening so that I could show off about that. I turned the wheels to make the composition more exciting. I set out my materials and drew the car really big, so that it filled the whole width of the page, then added the colours... I was so entranced that I forgot to have dinner!

The next day, it turned out that I was the only student who had taken the assignment seriously. I couldn't believe it! I now realize that the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the other students (most of whom were "regulars" at this artist's workshops) were probably the reason for the instructors' own lack of pizzazz. (Or was it the other way around?)

Regardless of how imperfect it turned out, that painting of mine was the highlight of the whole workshop for me. It beat all the slick demonstrations of the international artist's savoir-faire, and it made me realize that if the teacher's purpose is to show off his or her own abilities, instead of helping you develop your own, then it's just a waste of your time and money. There are plenty of DVDs with slick demos out there.

Next time, I will read the brochure more carefully.

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